Ramadan and the cultural friction behind insider attacks

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If the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is a factor in attacks on U.S. troops by Afghan security forces–as Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said today–it would not be the first time.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon from his headquarters in Kabul, Allen said he doesn’t know all the reasons behind the attacks, which likely include Taliban infiltration. However, he said they may be due in part to the stress on Afghan forces from fasting during daylight hours, in the just-concluded month of Ramadan. (In Afghanistan, it is called Ramazan.)

According to a scathing 2011 report on tensions between Afghan and American troops, an Afghan policeman argued with and then opened fire on an American soldier on Sept. 12, 2009, for drinking water in front of the policeman during Ramadan. The policeman was then seriously wounded by return fire from other American soldiers.

The Ramadan incident was symptomatic of how a perceived insensitivity to religion and culture may have led to dangerous frictions between Afghan forces and their American mentors. The report, “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility (PDF),”  was authored by an Army red team in Eastern Afghanistan which surveyed troops on both sides to understand the possible motives behind the attacks.

When it came to Ramadan, some Afghans felt Americans shouldn’t eat or drink in front of fasting Afghan security forces.  “This is our country; they should fast too,” said one.

At the same time, American troops vented that Afghan troops fasting on combat patrols, “endangered everyone because they were weak and light-headed.”

The 2011 report recommended integrating fasting into the planning of joint operations, something a year later Allen hinted may be taking place. Coalition troops are cognizant of Ramadan fasting, he said, and they try to plan joint operations “in the coolness of the morning or the coolness of the evening … closer to the period of time when the troops may have had access to water or to food.”

“It’s a very tough time for these (Afghan) forces,” Allen said.

According to the analysis in RC-East, American troops need to know there is a deficit of this kind of sensitivity, and it is endangering lives. The report claims that the war is going poorly, not because of Taliban propaganda, but because of the conduct of ISAF troops in Afghanistan.

Among 60 recommendations to get Afghans and Americans to be less abrasive to one another was the implementation of  deeper cultural sensitivity training. Let soldiers know how “offensive arrogance, insults, bullying and profanity are to Afghans. (Consider banning the use of the term ‘mother f—–‘ while in uniform that is so common in U.S. Army vernacular; its use threatens lives in this war zone.)”

The report claims, “We have often been our own worst enemy in winning the allegiance of the Afghans.” It goes deeper than 12-letter words.

“Many of the policies and behaviors of ISAF have been and continue to be self-defeating (including the prolonged and gross neglect in dealing with [the Afghan government’s] pervasive corruption). As was mentioned by several ANSF members, for many years U.S. (and other ISAF) militia convoys sped through the streets of local Afghan villages…  while shouting profanities and throwing water bottles at people from their turrets. Even then the obtuse questions among many ISAF members included, ‘Why don’t they like us?’ and “Why don’t they warn us about the IEDs planted in the road?”

The report states driving procedures have been reformed, but “bitter memories and hatred linger.”

“And according to many of this study’s participants, as well as other recent research and journalistic accounts, there continue to be many ISAF policies, actions and behaviors that infuriate and alienate much of the Afghan populace, including our armed ANSF counterparts. We lack the luxury to continue to volitionally ignore such personal, social and cultural violations, or to be ignorant of them in the first place.”

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2 Comments

  1. i find it ironic that the Afghans would complain about coalition forces drinking and eating in front of them when i saw several ansf soldiers drinking in front of us during Ramadan. also, i find beating women, children, and dogs offensive, and yet they seem to have no compunction about doing that in front of me

  2. After five deployments I’ve heard all the excuses for the rise in attacks and blue on green. It all comes back to the blame game of US insensitivity during Ramadan. Leaders ignore the fact of the use of drugs used by the the ANA and other Afghan forces on a regular basis don’t have any bearing on the attitudes and conduct of Afghan forces. Your told to build trust with some of the most corrupt people of society and convence the Afghan people to trust a government (Karzi) that is polluted with corruption as well a a government that has little or no influence on its people. To close… the vetting and recruiting process is an absolute joke for Afghan Security Forces and if that process made it out to the general public there would be a media frenzy.

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